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Watering Outdoors

May 13, 2022


Watering Needs

A lack of moisture can cause a flower or vegetable garden to wilt and produce very few – if any – blooms. Overwatering plants can cause disease and the drowning of plants. Whether you have annuals, perennials, vegetables, or flowering shrubs, knowing the best way to water these plants is key to a showy abundance of blooms that will be the envy of the neighborhood.


Gardeners should keep in mind that different plants have different watering needs. Annuals, which are planted in spring and give their all-in-one season, generally need more water than perennials that have many seasons to develop root systems; plants situated in full sun almost always need more water than those in shade; plants that live beneath large trees, where they’re forced to compete against tree roots for water, will need more hydration support than most; and new plantings will require more regular watering than established plants.

Hanging Baskets & Containers

Soil in container gardens, hanging baskets, and flowerpots dry out more quickly than soil in a garden plot or flower bed. The smaller the container, the more frequently you need to water.

Use the “first knuckle” test. Take your index finger and push it into the soil around the plant you’re getting ready to water. If the soil is moist, do not water it. If, on the other hand, the soil feels dry and no soil sticks to your finger then it is time to water. Moisture meters are available for this purpose but the knuckle test works pretty well.

Watering is of no value if the water runs down the outside of the root ball, leaving the roots at the core of the plant dry. This can happen if you water too quickly or apply too much water at once. Slower watering is usually more effective. The key is to ensure that water gets to the root zone — whether you are tending seedlings, watering houseplants, watering a row of tomatoes, or soaking thirsty shrubs and trees.

Soak the soil in containers in the morning, and, if the temperature climbs to 90 or above, give them another soaking in the afternoon. Pots hold heat, so the confined soil dries out faster than garden soil does.

Use a Dramm watering wand, drip irrigation, or soaker hoses to direct water right to the root zone.


The most efficient time to water outdoor flowers is before the heat of the day when the soil is cool and the water has the best chance of seeping down to the roots of the plants before evaporating. Watering plants early will ensure that they have sufficient store of moisture beneath the soil to withstand the heat of a hot summer day.

In the flower bed, one to two watering sessions per week are usually sufficient. Soaking the soil to a depth of 5 to 6 inches encourages plants to grow deeper roots, which in the long run will make for a healthier garden.

The second-best time to water is in the early evening. This gives the plants enough time to dry out, but there is still the chance for overnight water uptake by the roots.

Try to avoid watering late, especially if you live in a climate with humid nights. After a nighttime soak, leaves can stay wet for a pretty long time since they don’t have the day’s sun to dry them off. Wet leaves and moist weather are perfect conditions for fungus issues.


You can’t use the “lift test” in your garden or landscape, but you can use a soil moisture sensor to see if it’s time to water.

A slight drying out before watering promotes root growth of the plants. Shallow surface watering, however, discourages deep root development.

 Wet leaves can become diseased leaves. If kept wet overnight, leaf mold and fungus diseases may result. It’s better to water early so the leaves dry off.

Using a soaker-type hose on roses, perennial beds, vegetable gardens, shrubs, and trees can help get the water at the base of the plants … and not on the leaves. They’re so economical you can buy several and leave them snaked around throughout your landscape for easy and efficient watering.

Watering Vegetables


The first step to correct the watering of vegetable gardens is understanding the importance of water to your plants. The average vegetable is made up of more than 80 percent water. Some varieties, such as broccoli, lettuce, and celery, exceed 90 percent in their water content. The obvious takeaway here is that a lack of water is the number one reason vegetable gardens fail to thrive.


When water is consistently delivered to the roots of your vegetable plants, the roots are encouraged to grow and spread. A deeper, vaster root system means a better conveyance of water to the uppermost parts of the vegetable. This delivery of water is what produces large, full vegetables.


You should strive for placing about an inch of water once each week on your vegetable garden. This has long been the rule of thumb, but you should adjust that based on the climate where you live. Hotter climates with less rainfall will require more watering.


The best practice for watering a vegetable garden is to go about the work early in the day. Watering in the early morning hours means you will lose less water as the air warms and evaporation occurs.


The correct way to water your veggie garden is by directing the stream at the base of each plant, rather than spraying it over the top of the leaves.


One of the best ways to make it simple to water vegetable plants properly is to weave soaker hoses through the beds. Then, when it’s time to water, simply plug in your hose, and turn it on low.

If you don’t like the look of soaker hoses, you can bury them under the mulch to hide them. That will have the added benefit of preventing evaporation during hot, dry weather.

Even though sprinklers shoot water over the top of your garden, which is not ideal for watering vegetables, they are better than nothing.

If you’re in a pinch or rushed for time, it’s ok to set up the sprinkler once and a while. I wouldn’t recommend doing this every time though.

Vegetable Garden Tip

Amend soil with compost – Amending the soil with compost, well-composted manure, or worm castings will help it retain moisture longer. This is the best way to improve both sandy and clay soil.

Stick to a schedule – Don’t wait until your vegetable plants start to droop before watering them. If they’re wilting, it means they are already severely dehydrated, which causes a whole slew of problems. Sticking to a schedule will not only be easier for you, but it’s also much healthier for the plants.

Trees Need Watering Too

Newly planted trees and shrubs should be thoroughly soaked with water two or three times per week for the first month. After that period, water weekly during their first growing season.

Established trees and shrubs (which are at least two years old) only need to be watered once every two weeks during the growing season, when rain is scarce. A good rule of thumb is 1 inch of water per week for established trees and shrubs. Buy a rain gauge so you aren’t guessing how much water Mother Nature provided.


Water Like A Pro

Just remember, you can kill a plant with kindness. Water well when you do water. Then wait until the plant dries down before watering again. Your plant will love you for this care. Avoid extreme “dry downs”. When the soil shrinks away from the sides of the container the plant is much too dry. Many times, the plant cannot be revived from such treatment.

By watching your plants and testing their soil, you will gain a better understanding of the watering needs for your plant’s variety and specific location. Just remember, if you move a plant, you may have to adjust its watering frequency. With a little time and patience, you can become a watering pro!


1. Help New Plants Establish
Both young seedlings and young plant transplants are very susceptible to stress. To give them consistent growth and a healthy start, gently mist the soil to add moisture before seeding or transplanting. Water daily for the first week to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. After seven days, you can cut back to watering the flowers just a few times per week to encourage deep root growth.

2. Give the Roots Water
While roses and other flowers look pretty with water droplets glistening in the sun, wet foliage does nothing good for plants. Use a soaker hose to place the water exactly where it’s needed – on the soil. In doing so, you reduce evaporation, conserve water and decrease the potential of disease. Simply place the hose at the base of your plants and cover it with mulch.

3. Mulch Well
Mulch helps soil absorb water and maintain a constant level of moisture. Apply approximately 3 inches of organic mulch evenly throughout your flower beds. Avoid placing mulch within 2 inches of the base of flowers and shrubs. Too much mulch against plants can encourage disease and become a home to damaging pests.

4. Do give lawns an inch of water per week during dry spells which, with a sprinkler, takes about 90 minutes to deliver to one area. If you don’t have a water gauge, set out an empty tuna fish can. When it’s full, you’re done!